James : In-Demand Air Force
By Amaani Lyle, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Washington D.C. – (DoD
News) – February 27, 2015 –The Air Force is requesting $10 billion above
what sequestration-level funding provides in order to support its global
responsibilities, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told members of
the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee here today.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James testifies before the
House Appropriations Committee
James said the potential return of sequestration jeopardizes
the Air Force’s ability to sustain its various global missions and hampers its
ability to focus on its main priorities: people, modernization and stewardship.
“Sequestration needs to be lifted, lifted permanently,” the
Combatant Commander Requirements
James said the request for $10 billion in additional funding
is based on combatant commander requirements and the need for Air Force support
to joint operations worldwide.
The Air Force is the smallest it’s been since it was
established in 1947, James said. And it has a lot of older aircraft, while the
demand for air support remains high.
“The average age of our Air Force [airmen] is about 27 years
old but there are many [aircraft] fleets that are substantially older than that,”
James said. “More than half of our combat air forces … are not sufficiently
ready for a high-end fight.”
James said the Air Force provides two-thirds of the support
to maintain the United States’ nuclear arsenal. Airmen also perform
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, she added, and carry out strike
missions in Iraq and Syria to support the fight against the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant.
“I fear we’re either going to break or we absolutely will not
be able to do the defense strategic guidance that has been laid out for us,”
People a Top Priority
Taking care of people is a top Air Force priority, said
James, noting she takes service members’ concerns about downsizing seriously.
“We have to stop this downsizing; enough is enough,” the
secretary said. “We need to upsize … modestly, active Guard and reserve to a
total end strength of 492,000.”
That increase in personnel would allow the Air Force to
redirect people to the nuclear enterprise, she said, and fill critical gaps in
its cyber and maintenance teams.
James also reported plans to expand sexual assault prevention
and response program services with augmented training, plus-ups in the special
victims counseling programs, and provision of full-time sexual assault response
Other goals include increases in child care support, fitness
centers and educational benefits, as well as a 1.3 percent pay increase, she
Balance Between Readiness,
The balance between readiness and modernization is a vital
element to ensure the Air Force is ready for the high-end fight, James said.
“Our proposal will fully fund flying hours to the maximum
executable level, will invest properly in weapons system sustainment, and ensure
that our combat exercises … remain strong,” she said.
The secretary reported that she and Air Force Chief of Staff
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III consulted closely with combatant commanders to assemble
the additional $10 billion budget request with a focus on ISR, U-2 and Airborne
Warning and Control System programs.
James also noted the need to support vital space programs and
the nuclear enterprise, with additional investments in the KC-46 Pegasus
refueling aircraft, F-35 Lightning II, and the long-range strike bomber, which
she said will remain on track with the Air Force’s budget proposal to Congress.
Making Each Dollar Count
The secretary told Congress the Air Force is “driving
steadily” toward auditability of its financial books, and it’s taking on a 20
percent reduction in headquarters funding, which includes civilians, contractors
and redirection of military personnel.
There are difficult money-saving choices for the Air Force,
such as the retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” aircraft over time,
a proposal to slow military compensation growth, and consideration of a new
round of base realignment and closures, James said.
Still, if sequestration remains the law of the land, James
said the budget constraints portend even more sacrifices, including divestment
in programs such as ISR, U-2, AWACs, KC-10 and F-35 procurements, total force
flying hours, weapons system sustainment, and cancellation of the adaptive
“Your United States Air Force is still the best on the planet,
but we mustn’t take that for granted because we are a force under strain,” James
said. “And we mustn’t let our edge slip away.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)
Deborah Lee James
Special Report: Sequestration
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Air Force Seeks $10 Billion Over Sequestration Funding